Asprilla channels his grief into the big season for Portland Timbers

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Portland Timbers midfielder Darion Asprilla reacts during the second half of an MLS soccer game against the Colorado Rapids on October 23, 2021 in Commerce City, Colo.

Jack Dempsey / AP

Since Dairon Asprilla’s father never saw his son play for the Timbers, the Portland striker brings a memory of him to every game.

Under his jersey, Asprilla wears a t-shirt with the picture of Arcadio Asprilla and a heart. When Asprilla hits, he lifts his jersey and reveals the photo.

It’s his way of keeping close to his late father – whom he calls his superhero.

Arcadio Asprilla suffered from claustrophobia and could not visit Portland from his native Colombia because of the limited space in the aircraft. The older Asprilla even had problems with the car.

“Putting on the jersey motivates me on the field and makes me feel like he’s with me,” said Asprilla. “Because when he was still here, even in Colombia, he was always with me at my games. It’s just my way of dedicating my career to him, but also just having the feeling that he’s with me. “

When his father died last year at the age of 60, Asprilla was devastated. It didn’t help that he was sidelined due to injury and that the pandemic kept him largely isolated from family and friends.

But the devastating moment also gave Asprilla a new decision: he would make his father proud. He would get his career – which had stalled in recent years – going again.

“He was my role model and my friend, besides the fact that he was just my father,” Asprilla said. “I looked up at him the whole time. And he was the biggest part of my being successful in my career. So he was just always there. “

Asprilla has scored 10 goals this season, more than any of its previous years with the Timbers combined.

He is ready for Major League Soccer Goal of the Year for an acrobatic bike kick goal from outside the box that brought Portland 2-0 victory over the San Jose Earthquakes on October 27th.

There is a log at the north end of Providence Park. After each Timbers goal, a plate is cut from the trunk and presented to the player who scored the goal.

In a twist, after Asprilla scored that goal, Asprilla climbed the log and pointed with both arms outstretched at the section of Timbers Army trailers that was going wild.

“Goal of the year – that’s it,” said Portland coach Giovanni Savarese afterwards. “I mean, incredible goal.”

The cheeky celebration contrasted with Asprilla’s quiet demeanor outside the field. The 29-year-old is learning English, but still prefers to speak Spanish with an interpreter during interviews.

Asprilla, now in its seventh season with the Timbers, has been up and down in Portland, switching between the senior team and the lower division Timbers 2 in 2018 and 2019. Then he spent most of 2020 with injuries.

But he always seems to come out big late in the season for the Timbers and deserves the nickname “Mr. October. “In 2019, he scored Decision Day against the San Jose Earthquakes, helping Portland secure a post-season spot.

In 2018, he was the hero of Portland’s two-legged Western Conference semi-final victory over rival Seattle Sounders. Asprilla scored in extra time and then buried the decisive penalty.

Asprilla said he gained confidence by earning more playing time.

“I always had my head high and gave it my all, but I think I’ve lacked opportunities and confidence in the past few years. Now I have that. I have the trust of our head coach and I have complete trust in my team-mates, ”he said. “That helped me a lot on the field.”

Asprilla has matured and it shows, Savarese said.

“He gave us what we need. He was very consistent, not only in the work he did to be important and to give us a lot of different things, but especially when he scored goals, ”said Savarese.

Asprilla will take to the stage again in the postseason on Sunday when fourth-placed Timbers face fifth-placed Minnesota in the opening round of the playoffs.

His father will no doubt be with him in spirit.

“It was really tough, but it made me stronger in ways I didn’t know,” he said of his struggles over the past year. “And I promised my father and God that I would enjoy every day and try to just be happy and give my all – and show who Dairon Asprilla is.”

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